Crimean students’ grades lowered for not writing ‘thank you letters’ to Russian soldiers

Russia has been forcing children and their teachers to produce letters to the soldiers committing war crimes since soon after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Halya Coynash26 June 2024UA DE EN ES FR RU

From left, clockwise Letters of ’gratitude’ Crimean children are supposed to send to the perpetrators of crimes like those that led to the mass graves in Mariupol, the bombing of an apartment block in Chasiv Yar and the desperate flight under Russian fire from Irpin.

From left, clockwise Letters of ’gratitude’ Crimean children are supposed to send to the perpetrators of crimes like those that led to the mass graves in Mariupol, the bombing of an apartment block in Chasiv Yar and the desperate flight under Russian fire from Irpin.

The Crimean Discourse initiative has learned of school students in Russian-occupied Crimea having their end-of-year grades reduced because they did not write letters ‘thanking’ the soldiers fighting Russia’s war against Ukraine. In at least three cases, they report, teachers openly told the students why they were being so penalized.

It is impossible to independently verify such information as the students or their parents would be in danger if their names were published, and the teachers would clearly deny any link. Such reprisals would, however, be typical given the measures used since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine to force Ukrainian children on occupied territory to ‘thank’ the soldiers killing other Ukrainians.

Such compulsory letter-writing was first reported by the Crimean Human Rights Group in April 2022. They were told by a teacher in one Crimean school that an entire lesson was to be devoted to such ‘letter to a soldier’ activities in each class. Each school had been sent the required numbers of such letters, in accordance with the number of students. Furthermore, parents were being grilled on school chats about whether any of the children had not written such letters.

Similar letters, written by children recruited into Russia’s militaristic ‘Youth Army’ [Yunarmia], were displayed on Russian-occupation propaganda websites. The latter say nothing, of course, about the methods of coercion applied to obtain the letters, nor to obtain the engagement of children in an ‘army’ which has, with cause, been compared with the Nazis’ HitlerJugend. By September 2022, the propaganda newspaper Crimean Izvestia was boasting of over 600 letters “in support of the armed forces of the Russian Federation ‘to the defenders of the fatherland’” in one district. The newspaper claimed that “school children and their parents, teachers and staff of educational institutions are writing to the soldiers with words of gratitude and support”.

In February 2023, the Crimean Tatar Resource Centre posted a copy of a letter sent around to teachers which called on them to get students to draw pictures and write letters to Russians taking part in what the aggressor state insists on referring to euphemistically as its “special military operation’. These were to be published by Krymskaya Pravda and were supposed to be the letters and pictures of children whose fathers had been mobilized. Such mobilization is yet another of Russia’s war crimes on occupied Ukrainian territory. The Crimean Tatar Resource Centre warns teachers that by taking part in such campaigns, they “become accomplices in a crime against humanity and will bear criminal liability”.

Russia is committing appalling crimes in brainwashing children on occupied territory and trying to get them to support, and even want to fight for, a country that has invaded and is occupying Ukrainian territory. It must, however, be noted that, since the full-scale invasion, any expression of support for Ukraine or opposition to Russia’s aggression, is likely to lead to, at very least, dismissal from ones job and administrative prosecution, and quite possibly criminal prosecution and imprisonment. Lecturer Andriy Bielozierov was dismissed from his institute and then prosecuted and sentenced, first under administrative legislation, then on a criminal charge of “repeated public actions aimed at discrediting Russia’s armed forces’. He had, for example, played (patriotic) Ukrainian songs and posted entirely correct information on social media about Russia’s bombing and killing of civilians (details here).

Crimean Discourse also documented five cases where school students had been banned from bringing balloons in the colours of the Ukrainian flag to the ‘last bell’ events at the end of the school year. They had also been prohibited from bringing ribbons with words written in Crimean Tatar and with the colours of the Crimean Tatar flag, purportedly because of the similarity of the combination of yellow and blue with Ukraine’s national flag. There had, however, been two occasions where children were prohibited from waving the Crimean Tatar flag with the excuse given being that this was not “a state symbol of the Russian Federation”. While the number of possible charges has increased since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and a Ukrainian flag in the window can result in charges of ‘discrediting the Russian army’, there has been an effective, if not official, ban on public displays of both the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags since almost immediately after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.

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